Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua in Hiriga village, Nyeri County on October 2, 2023.

| Joseph Kanyi | Nation Media Group

End of honeymoon? Kenya Kwanza-Church bromance waning

In the run-up to the August 2022 General Election, President William Ruto, his deputy Rigathi Gachagua and the Kenya Kwanza Brigade branded themselves friends of the Church.

This was evident in their rallies and also after their election win, when they organised and led prayer sessions in a number of counties.

However, a year after they took power, the bromance between the Kenya Kwanza administration and the Church seems to be waning. 

After visiting most of the Kenya Kwanza-leaning counties, they have slowed down the prayer rallies.

Political observers say relations between a section of the clergy and the government are becoming increasingly strained, especially over issues of governance, the soaring cost of living and economic recovery policies.

Lawyer and political analyst Steve Kabita says the honeymoon between the church and the Kenya Kwanza administration is over and now some church leaders are speaking out.

“Some of the church leaders have now realised that they must speak truth to power to save Kenyans from the turmoil of worsening cost of living and other hardships bedevilling Kenyans," Mr Kabita told the Nation.

DP Gachagua and National Assembly Majority Leader Kimani Ichung’wah appear to be leading the pack of leaders openly criticising the clergy for 'undue criticism of the government'. 

But Dr Ruto and other leaders in his administration have refrained from criticising the church over the state of the economy.

In a move that perhaps sums up the state of the strained relationship between the government's top brass and the Church, Mr Ichung’wah at the weekend took on two of the country's top clerics.

He claimed that the head of the Anglican Church in Kenya, Bishop Jackson Ole Sapit, and Archbishop Anthony Muheria of the Catholic Diocese of Nyeri were opposition sympathisers.

The Kikuyu MP claimed that the two bishops were friends of Azimio leader Raila Odinga and had no moral authority to criticise the development and economic policies of the Kenya Kwanza administration. 

Speaking in Kericho during an interdenominational prayer session where he was hosted by Governor Erick Mutai and Ainamoi MP Benjamin Langat, Mr Kimani said some of the country's clerics were “engaged in active politics instead of playing their role as spiritual leaders by preaching the Gospel”.

“Bishop Muheria and Bishop Sapit openly sided with Mr Odinga in the last general election and continue to do so after the election. Even when they speak, we all know who they are speaking for,” Mr Kimani said.

The MP said the clergy should engage in objective criticism of the government, devoid of the insults that have recently been “hurled by some of the senior clerics in the country”.

“Bishop Sapit should not be blind to the reality of the country today because we all know what those you supported have done to our economy and brought it to its knees,” Mr Ichung’wah said.

The politician said Dr Ruto's administration had embarked on “a long and arduous journey to turn around the economy after the Jubilee government of former President Uhuru Kenyatta messed it up”.

“When we err, the clergy are supposed to rein us in, but some of them have openly engaged in politics and sided with the opposition. I want to tell the clergy that we respect them and the Church, but they should not be detached from the realities on the ground and criticise for the sake of it,” said Mr Ichung’wah.

“Even if we criticise openly and objectively, it should not be laced with insults, especially from the clergy.”

Recently, DP Gachagua also asked the Church to stop pushing for bipartisan talks between Kenya Kwanza and the Azimio La Umoja One Kenya coalition.

“Do not ask us to sanction blackmail and impunity, because what Raila Odinga is doing is blackmailing us to talk. How can you ask us to fall into a trap, blackmail and intimidation?” he asked.

This followed a position taken by the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops (KCCB) through its chairman Martin Kivuva that President Ruto and Mr Odinga should engage in dialogue over the post-election protests, after the demonstrations left several people dead and dozens injured.

“There can be no good reason to resort to standoff and defiance of our leaders to the detriment of Kenyans,” Bishop Kivuva said.

On Monday, controversial evangelist James Ng’ang’a also criticised the Kenya Kwanza administration over what he termed as a worsening economy.

“You are increasing taxes every time and using money the way you want. It is wrong to be increasing taxation when the county's economy is on its knees. Every time a man of God tells you the truth you want to close down the church. I will continue saying the truth as l preach. If you want, you can come and close down my church,” the pastor said at his Neno Evangelism Church in Nairobi.

On September 22 last year during a prayer session at State House, Mr Gachagua said there was a pre-election agreement between the Church and the Kenya Kwanza team.

“I took the Bible and vowed to support him (Dr Ruto) on your behalf. I will constantly remind him of our MoU with him on church issues even though he has many other responsibilities. It is my responsibility to remind him,” said Mr Gachagua.

This confirmed a position taken by Bishop Samuel Njiriri of the Federation of Evangelical and Indigenous Christian Churches of Kenya, that the MoU was what led the Church to support Dr Ruto for the presidency in the last general election.

“You cannot separate politics from religion because all our leaders belong to a particular religion or faith. The Kenya Kwanza government was voted into office by the church just like the Jubilee government in 2013,” said Bishop Njiriri.

“We will be in church for 52 Sundays a year for the next five years... to commit the country to God,” Mr Gachagua said in Ruai, Nairobi County, earlier this year.

Bishop Sapit recently urged Dr Ruto’s government to re-evaluate its economic and development policies and shelve those that are unpopular and unrealistic.

“They (politicians) made a lot of promises during the campaigns and we knew that most of them were unrealistic. If you follow the Azimio and Kenya Kwanza promises during the campaigns, it is like whoever wins by October, Kenya will look like a small heaven,” he said.

“It is time to face the truth and tell Kenyans that the promises you have made are unrealistic. Tell the people what you can deliver now and what you can postpone, otherwise you will break your back.”

Bishop Sapit added: “Reschedule some of the promises to the next term and be open with the people about it. That will make things work well for you (government)...some of these promises are unrealistic.”

Archbishop Muheria has been one of the main critics of the way Dr Ruto's administration has handled socio-economic and political challenges in the country.

"We should allow dissenting voices, alternative opinions as a country ... and work towards improving the plight of the poor. We should have a conversation about addressing the cost of living and concerns about the broader economic challenges that have a global and local impact,” he said.

Archbishop Muheria added that the country's economy was performing poorly and solutions should be found to ease the pressure on the poor.

"We should make Parliament an organ that is accountable to the people and not an instrument of manipulation... Our politics should not be based on electoral cycles and individuals as this is a distorted process," he said in a recent local television interview.

The archbishop also urged the Azimio leadership to work for the issues they believe in without engaging in violence and destroying property. 

However, Senate Majority Leader Aaron Cheruiyot has urged Kenyans not to be distracted by critics of the government but to support President William Ruto's administration in its bid to turn around the economy.

Mr Cheruiyot urged Kenyans to rally behind Dr Ruto's administration as it seeks to “revive the country's economy, which almost collapsed under the previous (Jubilee) government”.

“We should all support the government's good intentions to turn around the economy, stop over-reliance on loans to fund programmes and projects, and use internal mechanisms to develop our country,” he said.